01 July 2019 ~ 0 Comments

Modi reaffirms faith in babus

A notable feature of the Modi government’s first term and which has spilt into the second term is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s firm belief that, in some instances, experienced bureaucrats can do the job better than even seasoned politicians. In the past, under other dispensations too, there are several instances of babus making the transition to netas, but it was only when the NDA came to power in 2014 under Mr Modi that we can say it has been mainstreamed, in a manner of speaking. In his first term, Mr Modi bestowed key ministries on four former bureaucrats — R. K. Singh, Hardeep Puri, K.J. Alphons and Satya Pal Singh, ignoring the aspirations of many party colleagues. He could afford to do so since the BJP had won a two-thirds majority in the electorally significant state of Uttar Pradesh, pushing potential dissenters to the background. Now in his second term, and with a stunning 303-seat mandate, the PM is applying the same formula with even greater vigour. Yet, despite knowing Mr Modi’s fondness for bureaucrats, almost everyone was surprised when at the swearing-in ceremony of the Council of Ministers, former foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, was asked to take oath as Cabinet minister ahead of party veterans such as Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. The retired Indian Foreign Service 1977-batch officer now helms the External Affairs Ministry. Mr Jaishankar’s senior in the service and former Indian envoy to the United Nations, Hardeep Singh Puri, may have lost the election but that did not stop Modi from placing him in charge of two key ministries — Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Ministry of Civil Aviation. Then former Union home secretary and IAS officer, R.K. Singh, is once again given independent charge of two ministries, the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. In the present government former babus are at the helm of five Union ministries, and ministers of state in four ministries. Modi’s trust in bureaucrats has only grown over the years. Certainly, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) filled with Modi’s trusted and hand-picked bureaucrats is the most powerful office in government. The PM has reappointed his principal secretary Nripendra Misra and additional principal secretary P.K. Misra and elevated them to Cabinet rank. Similarly, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has been reappointed and given Cabinet status. But observers say that the biggest challenge these babus-turned-netas will face is not the issues of their respective ministerial domains but taking their ex-colleagues in the bureaucracy along. There is also a school of thought that a civil service background does not necessarily make someone a better minister. While admitting that babus have the advantage of knowing how the government functions, it is the seasoned neta who would have a better understanding of what the people want. It is obvious where this belief comes from! The past five years have distinctly shown that Mr Modi’s work culture is clearly about direct access, simplifying procedures and eliminating delays in decision-making and implementation. And Mr Modi knows that his second coming as Prime Minister will be judged solely on his ability to deliver on his electoral promises. And his band of trusted babus and ministers will have to work to ensure that the government stays good to its word.

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